Traces of Ebony: A Flash Fiction Tale
A Cup Of Joe
I'd walked past the small coffee shop in Atlanta hundreds of times on my way to work, but never at this slow pace. Perhaps it was because I was temporarily crippled with a bad knee sprain that I'd noticed it today, or then again, maybe it was because I'd slipped on the sidewalk and lost my balance, hurling my old cane practically through the front door of the establishment in the process.
Either way, after my near fall, I decided to stop for a cup of coffee and rest a bit before I continued on my way. It was after the morning rush hour so I entered the shop, enjoying the redolent aroma of espresso and cinnamon. There were few customers inside, just three old men who seemed to be friends sitting at one of the tables, talking old men talk. The owner of the shop—I assumed at the time—nodded at me and came from behind the counter to take my order.
He had very dark skin, and except for his crop of thick gray hair, he was of indeterminate age, though I knew he was rather ancient by the way he moved toward my table. Not that he stooped over when he walked, or shuffled his feet in any manner, but his bearing seemed to indicate years of experience, of travails and sorrow, or so it appeared to me at the moment.
I couldn't trace his accent as it seemed to be a mixture of several languages, a patois not unkind to the ear, musical in a pleasant way which made his smile all the more enjoyable. I ordered a cup of java and a sweet roll and opened a newspaper to the sports page while Frank—the name on his shirt said—busied himself behind the counter.
It was only when Frank returned with my order that he noticed my cane. “Verah nice walkin' stick you have dere fellow,” he said “Your father, he go to the worl war II?,” he asked. I was taken aback that he knew about my father's war duty, was speechless for a moment but finally answered his query. “Yes, he served his time fighting and was blessed to come home again safely.”
“Yes, the war in New Guinea was bad, lotsa Japs die dere, lotsa “mericans too. Was bad.....real bad.” When Frank said this he had a faraway look in his eyes, seemed to see over the horizon to another time. Which he did of course. But I was astonished again that he would know where my dad had been. After all, the war was fought in many parts of the world, on many islands, as well as other countries and lands.
Before I could ask him how he knew so much much about my father, Frank took a seat across the table from me, and in the process, picked up my old cane and cradled it lovingly in his gnarled old hands. “Yes,” he said “I 'member dis ole stick, made it wif my own hands and sold it to your fadder long time ago.”
Suddenly it hit me, flashed into my head how the old man knew my father. I'd heard the tale many times how dad came by the cane. Stationed in Paupau New Guinea, he was recuperating from a bout of malaria when a young native came by offering the cane for sale.
Carved from a shoot of ebony as black as coal, the locals kept the source of the rare wood secret from the GIs, would only sell small items made from the precious material from time to time.
Wood of Kings and Pharaohs
Ebony has been used since before the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, with many beautiful objects made of the rare wood found in the tombs of these ancient kings. Some believe ebony has a magical effect on those who carve it, with the wood never forgetting those who gather it from the dense forests of the tropics. These craftsmen swear the objects tend to gather together at some time in the future.
But that is merely superstition from uncivilized people who do not know any better, or so I thought at the time. Though it did seem strange I'd accidentally wound up here in the very shop of the artisan, carrying the very cane he'd made so many years ago. But was it really an accident?
At first dad refused to purchase the beautiful object saying, “I don't need a walking cane, I'm only 22 years old.” Dad said the young boy smiled at him and said, “You need it some day.” And he certainly did use it many years before he died. And now I'd met the young man in my father's tale.
It was only after Frank and I had embraced and shared a few tears that he motioned to the old men at the table to come over and make my acquaintance. They got gingerly to their feet and slowly hobbled over, each with his own hand carved ebony cane in hand.